Today in History – May 7, 1958 – USAF Pilot Major Howard C. Johnson zoom climbs Lockheed F-104A Starfighter to 91,243 feet

Major Howard C. “Scrappy” Johnson served as an F-89 Scorpion, F-86 Sabre, and F-104 Starfighter pilot with the 83rd Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Hamilton AFB from February 1955 to June 1958.

On 7 May 1958, he zoom-climbed a Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, serial number 55-2957, to an altitude of 91,243 feet (27,811 meters) over Edwards Air Force Base, establishing a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) altitude record. ¹ For this, he received the  Robert J. Collier Trophy for aeronautical achievement by Vice President Richard Nixon.

Johnson had also been the first person to fly over the top of the world in a jet fighter when he piloted an F-94B over the Arctic Circle. during his 84th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Hamilton.

In May 1967 F-105 pilot Col. Howard “Scrappy” Johnson, 388th TFW,  arranged a tactics conference at Korat, Thailand, arranged which became the first meeting of the “Red River Valley Fighter Pilots.” The term, coined at this gathering, came from the name of the river that runs through North Vietnam.

The May 1967 conference also became known as the first “practice reunion” because the first “real” reunion was expected to take place after the war when the POWs would be able to attend. The success of the meeting spawned a second “practice reunion” at Ubon in August 1967, where the nickname “River Rats” and their emblem were established.

Other “practice reunions” followed, with the first “real” reunion taking place in 1973 upon the return of U.S. POWs. Today, the River Rats focus on fraternity, generating awareness of POW, MIA and KIA issues, providing scholarships for the children of those lost in action, and promoting the importance of American airpower.




(1) Source: – Thanks, Bryan R. Swopes.

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